Texas executes Arturo Diaz after US Supreme Court refuses to intervene

Friday, September 27, 2013

Texas yesterday executed murder convict Arturo Diaz hours after the US Supreme Court turned down a final appeal. It marked the state's first use of pentobarbital in a lethal injection.

"Let's go warden. I'm ready" were his last words. He and co-defendant Joe Cordova were found guilty of the 1999 murder of Michael Ryan Nichols, stabbed 94 times over a $50 debt. Witnesses and forensic evidence linked them to the crime.

At trial a psychologist told the court Diaz had low IQ, childlike communications skills, and head injuries from fights and a car crash that were liable to "impair his ability to control and regulate his judgment and perceive reality". Lawyers for Diaz yesterday told the Supreme Court his defense had failed to ask relatives to tell the trial about Diaz's childhood, during which he had antisocial tendencies, and was therefore deficient.

Let's go warden. I'm ready.

—Arturo Diaz

Lawyers also told the Supreme Court Diaz's original appeal attorneys were also ineffectual, and that a possible plea bargain had not been properly explained to him. The court rejected an argument that prior rulings meant Diaz and others with allegedly defective legal representation should have their cases reexamined.

Diaz and Nichols were at a party the night before when the victim borrowed $100 from a girl there; he only repaid half. Diaz and Cordova headed to the McAllen apartment where Nichols and a co-worker were staying. Both were tied up with bedsheets and shoelaces and stabbed; the co-worker survived by feigning death. The offenders stole $50 and fled.

Structural formula of pentobarbital, the drug texas switched to for lethal injections this month.
Image: NEUROtiker.

In addition to the surviving co-worker, who escaped the next morning after passing out overnight, another witness told the trial of helping the accused dispose of bloody clothing. A beer bottle found at the scene had Diaz's DNA on it.

Diaz was put on death row; Cordova received a life sentence. His death marks the thirteenth Texas execution this year with four more planned.

Texas is among several US states with difficulties sourcing drugs for lethal injections. Texas previously used sodium thiopental but supplier Hospira ceased manufacturing it. Used as an assisted suicide drug, pentobarbital is also hard to source with Danish manufacturer Lundbeck opposed to its product being used to execute. State authorities refused to identify the supplier of the pentobarbital used yesterday, which replaces stocks of execution drugs that expired last month.